A WALKOUT by postal staff in the capital was starting today amid the spectre of a much more crippling national strike.
Thousands of Communication Workers Union (CWU) members in London are stopping work for 24 hours in the latest of a wave of regional stoppages.
It comes after postal workers’ leaders made last-ditch attempts to avert a national walkout, warning yesterday they would have "no option" than to press ahead with action if a bitter row over pay, jobs and conditions is not settled in the next few days.
The CWU said it would set strike dates tomorrow in the absence of progress. Seven days’ notice has to be given of a strike, so the earliest date for a walkout would be October 22.
Business secretary Lord Mandelson warned last night that a national postal strike would be a "suicidal act".
Postal workers have voted by three to one in favour of industrial action, but the union held back from announcing strikes dates yesterday, announcing instead that it was giving one last chance to avert a national walkout.
Dave Ward, the union’s deputy general secretary, said: "Postal workers do not want to take strike action but neither are they prepared to put up with continuing attacks from a management which is failing.
"We have written to Royal Mail making it clear that the CWU is ready to issue notice for a national strike as voted for by three quarters of postal workers.
"More importantly, we have offered what we believe is a genuine alternative to reach a lasting agreement.
"This is an opportunity to avoid a national strike, restore customer confidence and resolve the concerns of staff.
"If Royal Mail really is sincere about reaching an agreement we expect them to take up this offer for the interests of all involved in the mail industry."
The CWU called for a new benefits package to reward postal workers, urged Royal Mail to step back from imposing changes and said a three-year agreement should be reached aimed at providing long term stability for the business, employees and customers.
Royal Mail managing director Mark Higson said the union had raised a number of issues, including a demand for more money.
He added: "If the union are serious about resolving this dispute they should immediately lift the threat of strike action, including the strikes planned for tomorrow in London, which have hung over our customers for far too long.
"Royal Mail is very disappointed that the CWU continues to threaten customers with national strike action and still fails to honour repeated offers to call off all strikes even though Royal Mail told them two weeks ago there would be no further changes this year.
"Since then, the union have called strikes in more than 150 delivery offices and still continues to threaten a national strike."
Postal affairs minister Pat McFadden briefed the Cabinet on the dispute at yesterday’s regular weekly meeting in 10 Downing Street.